Tag Archives: Bistro cooking

Seapoint

Three years ago Sibella and I were in Italy, dining in a restaurant that purported to have more class than the ones we normally frequent on holiday. We had been lured there by the enticing and affordable table d’hote menu displayed in the window.

Once inside, we were handed the a la carte menu. Our request for the table d’hote was immediately met by a stare halfway between bemused and hostile. We stuck to our guns and were rewarded by the maitre d’ peeling the menu of our hearts’ desire from the glass. Clearly, we were not meant to eat from this carte. He laid down a stringent set of conditions – there was to be no variation, we had to chose three courses from A, B, or C, with no mixing’n’matching. The restaurant’s choice of wine to accompany the dishes was likewise set in stone.

I plumped for menu C, as it contained the magic words ‘sucking pig’.

By the time the dish arrived I was in a high old state of salivation. I stuck the fork in, tasted a morsel and frowned. My tastebuds told me that this was not sucking pig. I hailed the maitre d’ and enquired in friendly fashion “Is this the sucking pig?” He replied in the affirmative. “Are you sure?” I pressed. He turned on his heels and went into the kitchen, returning a moment later to proclaim “Chef says it is a young pig, speciality of the region.”

I recommenced eating. Another mouthful and I was utterly convinced that this was not sucking pig. I summoned the maitre d’ once more. “Any chance we could have a word in private, please?” We stepped outside. “Are you sure this is sucking pig, I asked, firmer this time. “Chef says it is young pig, speciality of the region,” came the pat reply. “Well, Chef is a lying bastard and so are you. This is not sucking pig, is it?” “Chef says….” I cut him short. “This is not sucking pig is it? This is f*cking fish.” “Yes,” he admitted, “It’s fish.” He had the grace to blush.

In my time as a restaurant reviewer and dedicated diner I’ve had some heinous deceptions practised on me. I’ve been palmed off with chicken as guinea fowl; farmed salmon as wild; pork fillet as rose veal. But swordfish masquerading as sucking pig is surely the emperor of all gastro-scams.

I hadn’t eaten swordfish since; that is, until last Bank Holiday Monday when I had dinner at Seapoint. Monkstown’s Crescent used to be a hotbed of decent dining but latterly it’s been pretty mundane. Still, one lives in hope and I’d heard good things about Seapoint from people whose opinions I’d respect. We arrived at the tail end of early bird time, the place was packed and the kitchen clearly under pressure. There wasn’t much of a meet’n’greet and though we were invited to sit at the bar until the earlier couple had vacated our table, no one asked us would we like a drink. There didn’t seem to be anywhere to put wet coats and, indeed, no one available to take them so we draped them over spare bar stools when we went to table.

A strategic bowl of rather good bread kept us occupied while the kitchen struggled to get back on terms. Then the starters arrived and from there on in it was all smiles. Sibs took the tian of crab tian, with a celeriac remoulade and a tangy pickled cucumber dressing, beautifully fresh and nicely presented. I went for a big bowl of mussels, having spied the one that went to the adjacent table, steamed Thai-style with coconut, chilli and coriander. We both took fish for mains: she, the pan fried honey and mustard monkfish, ingeniously teamed with spicy spaghetti fritters and a lemon and ginger jus; me, the grilled swordfish, quite a substantial chunk, came accompanied by baked fennel and garlic, a spicy tomato salsa and a lemon olive oil dressing. I was somewhat relieved to find the swordfish wasn’t sucking pig! It also came with chips, good ones too.

The wine list, like the cooking, is eclectic. Unlike the cooking, it’s slightly hit-and-miss. €48 for the less than whelming Pierro LTC sauv/sem really is not on. We shared a bottle of Senorio de Cruces, an Albarino, from Rias Baixas, Spain, crisp and decent, with enough weight to counter the glitzed-up fish dishes.

Sibella picked the winning dessert, a truly excellent lime and ginger crème brulee, served with balsamic and strawberry ice-cream. I opted for the selection of organic Tickety-Moo ice-cream of which I’d heard good things. In truth it was a disappointment, seeming a tad deficient in flavour. This was but a small blemish. Overall, we liked Seapoint for the ambience, adventurous cooking and truly excellent service.

The damage: €111.30, ex-service, for 2 x starters/mains/desserts, 1 coffee, bottle of wine

Verdict: Good to find a restaurant that does fish well.

Rating ****

Seapoint Restaurant, 4 The Crescent, Monkstown, Co. Dublin, 01 6638480

The House

Southsiders regard it as a little bit of home that’s been somehow geographically severed from the main. Northsiders claim it to show just how pleasant living on their side of the Liffey can be. The locals, possibly the most inward-looking people this side of Albania, refer to it as ‘The Peninsula’. Yes, this week, I’m in Howth with my mate The Taxman, striding along the promenade past the ice cream parlour yacht club beloved of the late C.J.Haughey, looking for a restaurant called ‘The House’.

I know a good few restaurateurs in Howth, fine people all. They look out for each other, co-operating in an annual taste fest that’s well worth a visit if you haven’t been. At the same time, catch them privately and they are not averse to dealing a slight knock to their neighbours and competitors – “Ah yes, they’ve been doing a fine job for years but lately I feel they’ve got a tad expensive”, or, “Well I’ve heard the food is very good but there are other places I prefer to dine.” As a public front-up, it’s a different story. Every last restaurateur will tell you that The People’s Republic of Howth does a better job of tickling the public’s taste buds than the combined efforts of Dublin 1-6.

The House is up on the hill, beyond the Abbey Tavern, the boozer that gave birth to The Dubliners, rock’n’roll, jazz and salsa, that’s if I believed the local who gave me directions. When we arrived I recognised the place, knew there had been a restaurant there before, as to what it was called I couldn’t for the life of me remember. Inside, I’d hazard a guess to say they’d inherited the furniture and accessories, as well as the neon sign glowing in the window that said ‘open’. The interior was all very reminiscent of restaurants that have existed in genteel seaside resorts since time immemorial. Southwold; Thornton Cleveleys; Abersoch; Bangor, County Down I remember them from my youth, with their chintzy teapots and the sort of home cooked ham that would win my mother’s approval.

With the arrival of the menu and wine list all nostalgia ceased. The cooking here is modern bistro-style, as you’d expect from a chef who’d cooked at The Mermaid Cafe; the wine list was modern too, with some very smart picks at sensible prices. We both took smoked fish for starters. Taxman went for the trout, me for the medley offering trout, salmon, white fish and mussels. Portions were generous, the seafood all beautifully cooked and nicely garnished.

The Taxman took the rump of lamb. I scammed some and it was very tasty indeed, obviously a well-sourced joint of meat. Fine mash, too. I contemplated the rib eye before opting for the burger, seduced by thoughts of a Mount Callan topping. For those who haven’t tasted it, Mount Callan is the Irish cheddar that comes closest in taste and texture to the great English farmhouse artisan cheddars like Montgomery, Keens and Quickes. I’d recommend it highly.

Of course these days you never get asked “How would you like your burger?” as the food police have decided anything less than mince cooked till grey is bad for us. The House burger arrived as what you might call ‘barely legal’ and a whopper it was, with bun top and bottom and a generous amount of cheddar on top and oozing down the sides. The onion rings in their tempura batter were absolutely spot on and the chips also excellent. To accompany this meatfest we chose a big, bouncing Barossa shiraz, Mitolo’s ‘The Jester’ 2006 and it did the job perfectly. A tad more than I normally stump up, I warrant, but when you are out to dinner with a tax consultant you might as well go for broke and hope he’ll find a way of keeping you solvent.

Desserts didn’t wink at me. I’d have loved the gooey-looking carrot cake but The Taxman got there first. I picked the Eton Mess, fast becoming a staple for restaurants that don’t really do desserts. There’s not much can go wrong with strawberries, meringue and whipping cream unless you OD with extra sugar, which is what I suspect they’d done here. It was rather too sweet and cloying for my taste, a bit too much of a kiddies’ treat. Coffee (Illy?) was of the “4/10, could try harder” kind. More training needed.

We both greatly liked The House. Smart confident cooking, generous portions and friendly service made it a place I want to return to. Subsequently, we found it very hard to leave ‘The Peninsula’. The last DART departed at 11.15 and we were on the minute. What’s more, it only went as far as Connolly, causing me to ask my guest “Can I claim back the cost of a taxi?” “Who was it said ‘there’s no such thing as a free dinner?’” he riposted. Bastard!

The damage: €114.25, ex-service for 2 x starters, mains, desserts, coffees and a very good bottle of wine.

Rating: ***1/2

Verdict: Another great addition to the Dublin bistro scene. Emphasis on local sourcing and a casual, relaxed atmosphere.

The House, 4 Main Street, Howth, Co Dublin Tel: 01 839 6388